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The Language of Enlightenment

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So the subject I have been given is: What is enlightenment? It doesn’t matter what enlightenment is, honestly. We don’t have it. But we may be looking for it. We should be looking for it. As being a Tibetan Buddhist myself, ever since I remember, from age 3, 4 onwards, I heard the word, 'sang-gye.' The first thing you learn is to take refuge in Buddha. Also as a goal for our life and purpose we hold that we want to become Buddha. Some people translated Buddha as “enlightened being”. That really introduces the goal and purpose of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners. That is something interesting and romantic. I experienced that with some individuals talking. Our whole purpose is going above the individual and pull out all energies together and people can tell you about very romantically. But it is true and at the same time it is not true. The spiritual practice that I understand is very much individualized and an individual responsibility rather than collective. There is the collective of the sangha and there is collective karma. I cannot deny. But achieving the spiritual goal is an individual task rather than a collective task.

In another way some people, even great early spiritual teachers thought that enlightenment is such a huge pool of consciousness that it adopts the individual and we become part of it. It doesn’t matter whatever it is. Even if it is a collective huge consciousness, the individual has to become part of it. If it is individual, even then the individual has to be enlightened. The language of enlightenment talks about knowledge. But I don’t think they are talking about ordinary knowledge. From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, when I hear the word “enlightenment” I hear the English sound, but what I get in my mind and heart is “Buddha”. That is because for the 72 years of my life I have been taught that. I hear the word “enlightenment” but I understand that it refers to “Buddha”. To become fully enlightened means to attain Buddhahood or the level of a buddha. Whether it is an overall huge thing or an individualized achievement, we all have the right to become a Buddha, no matter whoever we are. We may be white, yellow, black or pink, even if you are some kind of pink elephant from Mars or something you are entitled and you have a right to become a Buddha – as far as Buddha’s statement goes. Whether we get there or not, however, depends. It is not only one step. There is ordinary enlightenment and extraordinary enlightenment.

--Gelek Rimpoche